Thursday, March 18, 2010

Increase Pain Threshold with Zen Meditation

Zen meditation helps lower sensitivity to pain by thickening a part of the brain that regulates emotion and painful sensations, according to a Montreal study published in February. 

University of Montreal researchers compared the gray matter thickness of seventeen Zen meditators and eighteen non-meditators and found evidence that practicing the centuries-old discipline can reinforce a central part of the brain called the anterior cingulate.

"Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to underlie their lower sensitivity to pain," lead author Joshua Grant said.

Building on an earlier study, the researchers measured thermal pain sensitivity by applying a heated plate to the calf of participants.

This was followed by scanning the brains of subjects with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The MRI results showed central brain regions that regulate emotion and pain were significantly thicker in meditators compared with non-meditators.

"The often painful posture associated with Zen meditation may lead to thicker cortex and lower pain sensitivity," Mr Grant said.

The study was published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion.

In the previous study, the researchers recruited Zen meditators with more than thousand hours of practice and non-meditators and measured their respective tolerance to pain.
Several of the meditators tolerated a maximum 53C produced by a heating plate.

They appeared to further reduce their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of fifteen breaths for non-meditators.

"Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state," Mr Grant said in the earlier study.

Ultimately, Zen meditators experience an eighteen per cent reduction in pain sensitivity, according to the original study.

Article source here

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